A road map to expanding veteran access to mental healthcare

We know that veterans experience mental health disorders at devastating rates.

One recent study shows that 11% to 20% of those who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer PTSD in a given year. Another study estimates that 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. Experts estimate that 17.2 veterans die from suicide every day.

While the VA works hard to care for the health of our veterans, there is still a significant gap in veterans’ access to mental healthcare. Below, we’ll share some stats that paint a picture of that gap and discuss our ideas on how it can be closed.

A brief assessment of the current veteran mental health landscape

The VA offers a centralized healthcare resource for veterans. In addition to performing surgeries, administering critical care, distributing pharmaceutical prescriptions, and performing physical therapy, VA medical centers also treat mental health. Although the VA provided mental health services to over 1.7 million vets in 2021, it was unable to provide access to mental healthcare for all veterans who expressed a need.

Here are three startling statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Health that illustrate the primary problems regarding veteran access to mental healthcare:

  • Lack of mental health specialists qualified to treat veterans: Outside of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), only 13% of private mental health providers are qualified to deliver “culturally competent, evidenced-based care” for veterans.
  • Half of U.S. counties — notably those in rural areas — lack any practicing mental health professionals. This is an alarming statistic to read when we consider the fact that roughly 4.7 million veterans (almost a quarter of all veterans) live in rural areas.
  • 70% of veterans who died by suicide did not receive care from the VA.

It’s clear from these statistics that something needs to change.

Expanding veteran access to mental healthcare

Taking inspiration from the RAND Corporation, we’ve outlined a three-step road map to expanding mental healthcare:

  1. Equip more mental health providers with the tools and education needed to treat veterans Providers should be trained, either through their educational institutions or through private partnerships, to identify and address conditions commonly found in veterans. Expanding programs such as the Star Behavioral Health Providers, which gives civilian professionals training in military sensitivity, is one way this could be accomplished.
  2. Incentivize providers to offer mental healthcare to veterans Financial reimbursements could be offered to providers who perform the public service of treating veteran mental health.
  3. Reduce barriers to mental healthcare — The VA and other medical providers should embrace telehealth and other care options to make healthcare accessible to more veterans.

What Valor is doing to help

Valor Healthcare partners with practices and government agencies like the VA to help them provide access to care for patients, including the veteran population. Contact us today to learn how we can help you optimize your healthcare services.